LAHORE - Participants at a high-level virtual consultation organised by the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, have expressed the hope for the success of the ongoing peace negotiations to enable the Afghan refugees return to their homeland. The event was held co-hosted by Finland, Afghanistan and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

The participants also praised the generosity of Pakistan and Iran in hosting millions of Afghan refugees for over four decades. President, Dr Arif Alvi was among 175 distinguished participants who discussed the issues faced by refugees in return and reintegration to their homeland. His participation and the recent visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Kabul elevated Pakistan's role as a leading refugee host country and a key player in the region.

Opening the discussion, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that intra-Afghan negotiation is a unique opportunity. He urged all parties to move towards stability and peace.

In his speech, Dr. Arif Alvi welcomed the peace negotiations and intra-Afghan dialogue as a harbinger of peace paving the way for return of refugees. The Afghans, he said, should themselves decide their future. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in his speech, said the refugees' return should be well-planned and organised. He said the process of returnees could lead to further destabilization if overlooked or implemented in bad manner and with poor resources.

The United States Special Representative on Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, underscored the need for securing the achievements of the last twenty years. He called for reduction of violence and ultimate ceasefire, and reiterated US support to the Afghan people.

The British Prime Minister's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gareth Bayley paid tributes to Pakistan and Iran, the main hosts of the Afghan refugees. He said strong political will exists for peace in Afghanistan, as it was reaffirmed by Prime Minister Imran Khan and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during recent visit to Kabul. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi lauded the hospitality of the host countries, particularly Pakistan and Iran for sheltering a large number of the Afghan refugees.